April 17, 2018

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Dermot Kennedy and his track Young & Free is our blog song for today.  He only has an EP out at the moment but with that killer voice an LP has to be on the way.

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Words written for the year: 62,493

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Hello, again.

I’ve been neglecting this blog for the last few weeks due to gaining a new position at work. The new position isn’t really all that interesting, but it is a promotion of sorts, one that’ll see me retaining my current salary while going down to three days a week…eventually. For now I’m actually working more, as not only have I already started my new position but I’m holding the fort for my old one until a replacement is found. Which is why I’m guilty of blog neglect.

To be honest, the whole thing’s made me pretty tired and grumpy for the last week, except for when I’m too tired to even be grumpy. As well as the blog, my daily word limit has taken a hit, as has my runs per weeks, and, because food = comfort, so has my diet. The snowball is rolling down the hill. However, it’s a snowball I’m aware of and so I’m putting my foot out and am going to try and slow the roll. Or, in other words, practice more self care. Work, while demanding, and probably full time for at least another month, can’t demand all my energy, and so I’m going to stop giving it to them. Likewise, I’m going to (try and) not beat myself up about hitting word limits. I was talking with Holly about this yesterday and she reminded me that I’ll have time later in the year to catch up on any missing words. I think the other thing that’s important to remember, especially for me, is that even when I’m on top of things, even when I’ve planned out tasks and set achievable goals, even when my self control is finely tuned and aimed at my target like an arrow to a bulls-eye, shit happens. Life will always get in the way at some point. Any control I think I have over events will prove to be false, and, like all of us, I just need to roll with the punches. Because really, that’s the answer; be fluid. Things will happen and when they happen it’s up to the individual to adapt rather than rally against it. So that’s what I’m trying to do. Letting some things go so I can complete others with the thought that time is long and fluid and will be mine again one day.

In the meantime other things have also been happening outside of work. The podcast I’ve been a part of for the last few years, Movie Maintenance, is ending…but will be replaced with something new. It’s exciting. We made the announcement over all the social medias last week and then something truly amazing happened. All these comments of commiseration for the loss of movie maintenance started coming through. But not just commiserations. Also, thank you’s, and heartfelt appreciation for the show. Comments from other emerging writers who listen and wanted to pass on their gratitude for the episodes on writing advice, and tell us how much we’ve helped with their writing. It was brilliant. It made my day and came in the middle of a week where a pick-me-up like that meant so much. So, for any fans reading this, thank you.

We also will be having a final live show in Melbourne to see us off, which you can get tickets for here: https://www.trybooking.com/book/event?eid=372752&

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In other news, a few weeks ago I stumbled across a video among the dense jungle of distractions that is the internet. The video was a Photoshop tutorial that detailed how to create geometric versions of photos, specifically animal heads. You may have seen these around, but if you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s an example:

Loki

The process was surprisingly simple thanks to Photoshop’s amazing functionality, the complex series of algorithms running it all, and my own familiarity with Photoshop. Either way, the video went for about six minutes and by the time it was done I had learned a new trick. I gave it a go and had success. The image above being my first attempt.

Like I said, they’re not actually all that complex. It’s mostly just the usual combination of concentration, repetition, and a sprinkle of imagination that all creative endeavours require. I actually find the process really calming, akin to the adult colouring books that were very briefly all the rage. I’m now in the habit of chipping away at these digital art pieces in the evening with the TV on in front of me, clicking away at pixels until I carve out a finished product.

The whole experience has made two things very clear to me:

  1. That the internet is a treasure trove of learnable awesomeness – if you’re willing to dig through the not awesome parts.
  2. Creating a new thing, however basic, is genuinely amazing.

That second part is not news but it is a good thing to remember, namely, the fact that being creative means you are actually creating something. Something new. Something that didn’t exist until you put fingers to keyboard, or pen to paper, or paint to canvas, or combined ingredients, or threaded a needle through fabric, or, well, I think you get the idea.

What really amazes me about it, about creation in general–from a digital image all the way up to life itself–is that the process involves combining components that already exist in order to create something new. In this case photos and Photoshop, with just that sprinkle of imagination, and then the end product is unique from anything that ever existed before. The same is true of writing. Often stories are made up of a millions of different little sources of inspiration, that come from things that already exist out in the world. But that when combined (and sprinkled) create something new. Then even more fantastic, once than new thing is out in the world it too becomes an ingredient, a component to be used, and assimilated, and combined, to create some other new creation.

I think that’s what’s so great about being creative. Not only do you get enjoyment and satisfaction from the process, you also gain something. Something that didn’t exist but now does because you chose to put the time, focus, and imagination into it. Something that you can look at, and share, and put on a t-shirt.

Which is what I think I’m going to do with the geometric animals. I’ll let you know.

Until then. Here’s a few more I wanted to share with you:

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Talk soon,

Damian

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Nemesis

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The ad read:

Looking for: A nemesis. Preferably villainous. Happy to meet at your convenience. Call: 0431 684 229.

I had seen it last week in The Gazette, in the tiny half page section they still reserved for classifieds. I’d read it over a coffee from my usual seat in the cafe after completing my morning run. Something I did every Sunday. It had caused me to emit a small laugh–nothing more than a barely audible exhalation out of my nose–and to wonder at the weirdness of people, before turning the page and forgetting about it completely; or so I had thought.

I walked over to the adjacent supermarket and, while dawdling past the fluorescent lit shelves with a shopping basket in one hand and a shopping list in the other, the words of the ad came back to me.

It had to be a kid, I thought as I passed the shelf full of a seemingly endless variety of packaged water. But then, a mobile number was attached, and how would a kid know how to post a classified anyway? Why would they bother? Surly they’d just throw something like that up on their social media or on a forum somewhere. The medium of the advertisement alone signified an adult, as did the language. Which only raised more questions in my mind.

As I perused the vegetables I wondered who this person was. Where they male or female? At a guess, probably male. But then you never knew. I mean, I’m female and I’ve been reading comic books since I was eight. The poster of the ad had to be a superhero aficionado, surely. Who else would put a call out for a villainous nemesis if not a lonely comic book obsessed viglianti wannabe?

I saw my reflection in the glass of the supermarket freezers and realised I could be describing myself. Well, I wasn’t obsessed obsessed. I had my collection, sure, but I didn’t turn my apartment into a shrine to the genre like some people did. At the very least I knew the difference between fiction and reality, unlike the poster of the ad.

I told myself to stop thinking about it and focused on my shopping list. I had already walked past half a dozen items I needed while lost in thought.

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That night as I sat in front of the television I caught myself thinking about who would answer an ad like that. Someone similar to the person who posted it no doubt. Two nerds, likely out of shape, running around the city at night, pretending to play good guy versus bad guy. Not that all nerds were out of shape, of course. Look at me, I completed an iron woman last year and I still consider myself a nerd. Not that I would answer the ad, of course.

Which made me wonder if anyone had answered it yet. Unlikely. Right? Surely not. Not that it mattered. Not that I cared. It was silly. I was wasting my time wondering about it, and had missed most of what had happened on my show. I focused on the programming and let the thoughts about the ad slip from my mind.

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At work the next day I managed to forget about the ad. There was a warehouse to run, stock to load, people to talk to. I didn’t have time to think about a stupid bit of frivolity from the local paper. It was probably a joke anyway.

‘What’s that your whispering?’ Marcus had asked me while I was checking over the mornings order; some two hundred drums of gasoline to be shipped overseas somewhere, but which had none of the right permits.

‘Sorry?’ I responded, not realising I had been whispering anything.

‘That thing you’ve been whispering? Something about villainous, and convenience. You’ve been doing it for the last hour. It’s driving me nuts.’

I froze, thinking back. I had been saying the words of the ad. In fact, they’d been playing over and over in my head, like a song stuck on repeat. They were playing right now.

Looking for: A nemesis. Preferably villainous. Happy to meet at your convenience. Call: 0431 684 229.

‘Ah, it’s just an ad jingle,’ I said, covering. ‘Sorry, didn’t even realise I was singing it.’

‘Yeah? Haven’t heard that one. What’s it an ad for anyway?’

‘Um, you know. I don’t remember,’ I said. Marcus gave me an odd look, one I probably deserved, one I probably would have given myself had our positions been reversed. They were used to given me odd looks around here anyway. I knew they had jokes about me. I was the loner. The weird chick who worked out too much. The one to avoid unless you wanted to hear about comics for two hours straight. I didn’t mind, mostly.

‘Sorry. I’ll stop,’ I said, telling myself as much as him.

But I didn’t stop, at least not internally. The words kept swimming round my head for the rest of the day.

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A day passed, and then another, and I had mostly managed not to think about the ad. Occasionally it would pop up in my mind, but I would squash the thought whenever it presented itself and get on with whatever I was doing. By Friday I think I had genuinely forgotten about it, losing myself in the usual routines of the week. On Saturday, I had busied myself with a triathlon, a trip to the movies, and then a dinner out by myself.

Then Sunday had come and with it my trip to the cafe to treat myself to breakfast.

It was raining again, the scene all but identical to the week before. As soon as I sat down in my regular spot the memory of the ad returned. I couldn’t not check. I went to the counter and got that days copy of The Gazette, then returned to my seat and turned immediately to the classifieds. There it was, slightly altered from last week. Today it read:

Looking for: A nemesis. Preferably villainous. Happy to meet at your convenience. Call: 0431 684 229. Serious enquiries ONLY.

So, they’d got some interest, but only by people who were looking to make fun. None by anyone who took it sincerely. Not like me, a small part of me thought. I quieted that part, and turned instead to the front page of the paper to distract myself. It didn’t work.

I turned the pages but I wasn’t taking any of it in. Instead I was asking questions I knew I shouldn’t be asking. Things like: what would make a good nemesis? Or, what would my first crime be? I knew the answer to the former. Decades of reading comics had instilled in me an appreciation when it came to a well defined villain. They were usually broken in some way. Whether by a unresolvable loss, or just worn down by the monotony of life. They were people with skills, often overlooked. Accomplished, but only to themselves. Unappreciated by anybody else. They were, if done right, real people with real goals. Mirrors of the hero, who just went about things in a different way. Often in a way that made more sense. They were, arguably, heros in their own right. Just, misguided.

As for the second question, I had no answer. Or, at least, I didn’t allow myself one.

I tore out the ad and put it in my pocket.

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The next day at work I had planned to catch up on some paperwork. Instead I locked myself into my small office at the back of the warehouse and drew. I’m not an excellent illustrator, but I’m passable. Helped by years of tracing characters from the colourful pages of my favourite comics.

What I drew were outfits. Costumes. What I would wear, hypothetically, were I to become a super villain. I went with a charcoal colour spectrum. I had never liked villains that were as flashy as the hero. Plus, it couldn’t be too cartoonish. Something I could wear through a crowd without getting any odd looks. Something tight that billowed at the edges a little, with a hood that could be slipped on quickly. I’m willing to admit some bias, but I thought it looked quite good. Menacing. I decided to even have an attempt at making it, just to see what it would look like.

It was even better than expected.

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That Sunday the ad was still there.

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It became a mental puzzle for me; If I were to commit a crime, how would I do it?

The warehouse would be the ideal location, I thought the follow Monday while doing my early morning inspections. I knew the space, the schedules, the flaws. I still didn’t know what the crime would be, but that was less important than that it be explosive, a real performance. Something to draw the media, give them a story. A story about me. I mean, my alter ego.

I would need an alibi, of course, as my intimate knowledge of the place would also make me a suspect, but that wouldn’t be too hard. I had set up a camera outside my apartment over a year ago, and I knew how to edit the metadata. I could simply tell anyone asking that I had been home all night, and then show them footage from a different evening. I had plenty of nights where I had stayed home alone.

Probably best if I tell a few of my coworkers and neighbours that I was feeling unwell beforehand too. Perhaps store my costume at work, change when I get there. The fire escape to my apartment was rarely used. It would be easy enough to get down and up it without anyone seeing me. I could then ride a bike out here. It wouldn’t be very heroic but it would be discreet.

All the pieces were coming together. For the puzzle, of course.

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I wouldn’t give myself a name, I decided as I was working out the following evening. Let the news outlets decide that. I wondered what they would chose.

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I bought a burner phone the next day, just in case.

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I called the number two nights later, just to see what the person’s voice was like. It was close to three am, but I couldn’t sleep. I placed the ad in front of me, although I knew the phone number off by heart. I had set the burner phone to private, and then slowly dialled each number, my heart racing. He picked up on the fourth ring. It was a he, as I’d expected. ‘Hello,’ he said.

My adrenaline spiked and I hung up the phone and dropped it to the counter.

My hands were shaking, and something like a giggle was coming from my mouth. I put one of my shaking hands over it to quiet myself.

The burner phone began to ring.

I stared at it, frozen, until it rang out.

Then it began to ring again.

I slowly lifted it off the counter and looked at the screen. The number was private, but I was confident I knew who it was. I told myself not to answer. To turn off the phone and destroy it, along my costume, and plans, and all the other steps I had already put in place. But my finger moved almost against my will.

Or perhaps with it. Could I really still deny my motivation? My desire?

‘Hello,’ he said again. His speech was deep, with a slight accent, perhaps Indian? I had expected the weasley voice of a stereotypical dweep. This wasn’t that.

‘I’ll be your nemesis,’ I heard myself say in a voice that was out of breath.

There was a pause. I could hear him breathing.

‘You’re responding to my ad?’ he said, and I let out an exhale, only then realising I had been holding my breath.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Yes, I am.’

‘And, this isn’t a joke? Because if it is I-’

‘No! No, I am very serious. Very. I already have a costume, and a plan, and, and I’ll be your nemesis. I want to be. I…I need to be.’

Another pause.

‘Okay. Okay. That’s…this is great.’ I could hear the smile in his voice, hear the excitement I felt in myself reflected back from him. ‘When are you-’

‘Thursday week. A warehouse down near the docks. On Grattan Street. Around midnight.’

‘Okay. I’ll see you then.’

The line went dead, and I smiled.

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The footage had gone viral.

We had fought hand to hand as the gasoline and warehouse burned behind us. He had been beautiful. A pure white outfit, stark against his brown skin. The strong brooding ghost-of-the-night type. I had slipped in a monologue about how I was going to save this city by destroying it. Not very original perhaps, but I’ll do better next time.

They’d called me the grey moth.

He, my nemesis, had said I’d deserved something more sinister.

I said I didn’t mind. I’ll make them fear it.

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Thanks for reading,

Damian

March 20, 2018

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Vance Joy’s new album, Nation of Two, has been burning a hole through my phone and the various bluetooth speakers I attach it to. That’s because it’s a joy of an album, one that surprisingly manages to be as good as his first; not an easy feat.

This one is called Lay It On Me and is today’s blog song.

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Words written for the year: 48,785

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I’ve been feeling sickness creep in at the edges of my periphery for the last few days. Nothing debilitating, just a general weariness and pressure that I’m currently carrying around like a backpack. It’s a bummer more than anything, because it makes even the usual stuff that little bit harder and that little bit less enjoyable. I’m reasonably sure it’s been brought on by overdoing it. It being life.

I started this year with a unspoken resolution to try and be more idle. Not in that I’d do less, per se, more that the things I’d do would require less energy. Read more, do a few puzzles, drink an inordinate amount of tea. On that level I’ve been successful, I’ve done all those things (although my tea quotas could probably still increase), but I’ve also still been filling my weeks with all the usual things; commitments, socialising, writing, podcasting, and work buried in somewhere amongst all that as well.

And so I’ve gotten sick. That’s usually the way it goes. Keep pushing yourself until your body cries out no more, or illness shuts you down. It’s not really a very healthy cycle.

However I know the cycle will soon be broken. That’s because my routine will soon evaporate completely. It will be replaced with airports and planes, hire cars and airBnB’s, sightseeing and exploration. In other words, I’m going on a holiday. The holiday is still around four months away, but, considering four months is also almost the length of the holiday, preparations are already well under way. Those preparations are probably adding to the feeling of being busy. Mostly mentally, because the Lady Holly is actually the one doing most of the preparations. She’s amazing. Which is why I’m going to marry her, which we’re also preparing for, as the happy day will come only six weeks after we get back from the holiday.

As you can see lots of cool things to look forward to, and that’s without even mentioning that while overseas I’ll be seeing my twin brother/best friend get married off to the love of his life (once I proposed he had to too, twin rules).

The weird thing is that I know all this wonderful craziness is coming, but life feels so normal now, complete with a background sickness and a feeling of being overworked. It can be all to easy for me to focus on the latter facts, to not be able to see out of the bramble of everyday problems to the bigger scope of it all; which only really serves to make me a simmering crock pot of grump.

On days like that it’s helpful for me to stick my head out of the brambles and look to the horizon, where the current everyday problems are long forgotten; and to remind myself that good things are coming.

And they are. They really are.

Talk soon

Damian

The Stars Were There

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The stars were there the night she was born.
          They shined above the highway as her Dad searched frantically in the trunk of the car for a picnic blanket he was sure had been floating around back there since the summer before, and her Mum laughed from the backseat of the car with just a tinge of hysteria in her voice as she repeatedly said, ‘she must be a keen one, just can’t wait to meet us.’
          The stars watched as in the field beside the highway she entered the world, red and wrinkly and perfect, on the old tartan picnic blanket. They heard as she let out her first cries, which were loud and high pitched, and her Dad whispered to her Mum what a great job she’d done, how proud he was, and how they’d be telling this story for years to come, and her Mum just laughed and sobbed, relieved and happy.
          On that night, the stars were there.

The stars were there when the thought first formed itself.
          They looked down at her, as she looked back at them and thought about what she wanted to do with her life — a young age to be making that kind of a decision, but then she had already proven herself not to be a usual six year old. It was the presence of the stars that sparked the thought, the one that would change the world.  As she looked at their bright burning bodies, it came upon her that if she stared at a single star for long enough it would disappear, only to then reappear if she turned her gaze ever so slightly to the side. Nothing other than an optical illusion, caused by the microscopic mechanisms of the eye, as she would later learn, but at six she couldn’t help but wonder where those stars went when they disappeared.

The stars were there when her parents took her out to celebrate.
          It was a clear summer night, the family took a table outdoors, ordered food, and raised a glass to toast her many achievements. Doctorate degrees in theoretical physics and astronomy, the publishing of her first scientific paper; The existence and breaching of alternate universes, and the multitude of grants she had received off the back of that paper.
           They clinked their glasses, and sipped. The wine ran down her throat, making her feel giddy and warm. She may have been only fifteen but her Mum had said she was allowed the drink because it was such a special occasion. Because they had so much to celebrate.
           Her father made a toast and they clinked glasses again, the crystalline sound waves traveled out and away from them.
           Out towards the stars.

The stars were there the day she first breached the divide.
          They hung in space, unseen behind the light of the sun and the walls of the building, as she stood, surrounded by grad students, most older than her, all dressed in gowns of white. They burned, light years away, as she turned on the machine. A mouse, dressed in its own coat of white, looked at her with eyes as black as space and gave a twitch of its whiskers. She smiled at it, hopeful, and pressed the space bar.
          The machine, known colloquially throughout the lab as the WHB (or wormhole box), hummed gently as it drew in power. A lot of power. So much power that the humming turned to a drumming vibration. The mouse and his cage shook, and the little animal ran to hide, but it had nowhere to go. The machine sounded a DING, like a microwave announcing the popcorn was ready, and the mouse was gone. The machine’s humming slowed, then stopped, until a charged silence filled the room; then the scientists began to cheer.
          She didn’t. She knew the job was only half done.

The stars were there the day it all went wrong.
          In the years since that first breach more mice had been sent through the WHB, which was now into its twelfth model. Hundreds of mice had heard the hum, then the shake. Each time she had been the one to press the space bar, and each time they’d ran to hide, and each time it had done little to keep them in this universe.
Now she knew how to bring them back.
          The stars, once more hidden behind a blanket of sunlight and atmosphere, were nevertheless where they had always been as she approached the lectern. She looked out at the crowded theater, at the representatives of the government agencies and independent research organisations, all the people who had provided her with money and equipment and support over the years. She looked to the cameras, where she knew people from all over the globe watched her on their laptops and tablets and phones. She looked to her parents, smiling in the front row.
         She introduced herself, although there were few who didn’t know her name, and told them what they were there to see.
          The chimp was brought out. It climbed into her arms, and she laughed as it kissed her on the cheek. With gentle hands she placed the humanoid animal into the exterior chamber of the WHB, stoked its head, and wished it luck.
           She pressed the space bar, and the machine began to hum.
           It continued to hum until it met an error in the machines programming. A section of code that should have contained a decimal instead contained a comma. A simple mistake, and one which caused the machine to draw in energy like a black hole drawing in gravity.
          The machine was well made and did what it was commanded to do.
          The stars were there when the world disappeared.

The stars were there when the earth came back.
          One moment their rays of light passed effortlessly through the dark of the universe, the next they were rebounding back off of the face of the world.
For twenty one days the stars had been alone. Twenty one days for her to rework the math, rewrite the code, and use the WHB to bring them all back.
          At first, people hadn’t believed.
          Then they saw that the stars were wrong.
          Then there had been panic.
          Days were shorter, nights longer, and without a moon the seas were eerily still.                  Energy remained, but with the satellites left behind, communication had been lost. Twenty one days of fear and quiet and waiting.
          Now, they were back, and the rebuilding was already well under way. Soon they would be reminiscing about the time the earth had become the largest transport vessel in existence. The three weeks they spent in an alternate universe. A story to tell the grand kids.
          She looked at the stars, all in their usual places, and breathed a sigh of relief; ignorant to the fact that something had come back with them.

The stars were there when the entity was first discovered.
          The spore, native to that other universe, had adhered itself to the ground in the middle of some rarely visited bush land in Western Australia. There it had grown, it’s tendrils rushing through the rich soil like a swarm of eels through water, spreading further and further. Then it sprouted. Giant strings of fungus burst from the ground for miles in every direction from where the spore had first landed. Heavy fruit quickly grew from the strings, then burst, letting out an a sea of spores to be taken by the wind.
          The owner of the land saw the white and spindly stalks on the horizon just as the first stars were appearing in the sky. News vans rushed to the site to be the first to capture the alien entity.
          They needn’t have bothered. By the morning, the spores had spread and sprouted across most of the state.

The stars were there when the fight began.
          Under their light she watched the footage on her phone. The alien flora tearing through the country had already started appearing in other parts of the globe. She didn’t need to guess where it had come from.
          She put out a call to the best and brightest from every field, and they’d come, through satellite beams and fiber optic cables, to help her form the plan of attack.
She’d talked with them through the night, as the stars twinkled above. They spoke of plant physiology and structure, ecology and genetics, life cycles and distribution models. They talked and she listened, collating it all.
          Then she spoke. She told each party what she wanted them to do. Where to marshal their attack. How to lay the specific type of defensive groundwork. What types of new bio-weaponry to create.
          For herself, she got on a plane and headed to where it all started. She wanted to meet the enemy head on.

The stars were there when she lost all hope.
           She wept under their distant light with no idea what to do next for the first time in her life.
          It had taken only weeks for the fungus to cripple the planet. It’s feather light spores had ridden slipstreams across oceans, finding their way to every part of the globe. At each point the fungus had spread and sucked the land dry. It’s growth rate was unheard of. It was growing still.
          As it grew it destroyed. It absorbed every drop of water, every mineral, every scrap of unwary life. The native flora either shriveled away to nothing or were simply smothered under the weight of the fungal growth. Herds of animals dropped dead due to starvation or dehydration. Now there were reports of the fungus making its way down to the ocean floor.
          She’d done everything she could think of. Attacked it with every form of chemical weaponry known to man. Invented new ones. Tore kilometers of the hungry infestation from the ground. Then, when nothing else had worked, set the country ablaze in an effort to eradicate it.
          Still it grew.
          It’s level of indestructibility would mean their destruction, she knew this now. It was only a matter of time.
          So, she wept. Alone, in a field, with the fungal stalks around her, and the stars overhead.

The stars were there when the new earth was born.
          She looked up at them as she stood beside the WHB, the device drawing in life from one of the few remaining power sources. She hadn’t slept for days. She’d been coding non stop since the answer had come to her; rewriting the settings so the WHB would only transport matter from within a very specific set of parameters.
          The stars watched as the humming turned to shaking, and the few remaining artificial lights went out. She looked at the stars, taking them in for the very last time.
The machine dinged and a new earth was born; green, and lush, and perfect.
          Technically, it wasn’t a new earth at all, simply an alternate one, but it was new to her, and to the rest of the previous earth’s inhabitants that had unknowingly made the journey with her. Through the new starlight she saw a flock of birds cross the sky. An insect buzzed by her ear. Good signs. They would have to rebuild everything. Start again from nothing.
But that was tomorrow’s problem. For now she fell to the ground, laughed and sobbed, relieved and happy.
          On that night, the stars were there.

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Thanks for reading,

Damian

March 2, 2018

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Music today comes from Mumford and Sons via my dad, who shared it with me. The song is called The Enemy, which is paired here with rain sounds from an app known as Rainy Mood. A quality combination.

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Words written for the year: 40,203

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A while ago, let’s say a year because I can’t remember exactly, I began a routine where, as I lay in bed ready for sleep, I would recognise four things I had liked about the day just passed. It’s a type of prayer, I suppose, although I’m not a religious person. What I see it as, is gratitude. Who I’m directing that gratitude towards is unsure, but it doesn’t really matter, it’s the act of gratitude that’s important.

I started this practice when, after a shitty day at work, the Lady Holly needed some cheering up. She was in the mood where she was unhappy, but also unhappy about being unhappy, ready to come out of it if I was able to throw out the appropriate stimulus.

‘Tell me four things you liked about your day.’ I requested. Four, because it’s my favourite number, D being the fourth letter of the alphabet.

We were cooking dinner, I was stirring something in a frypan over the stove and she was beside me, a drink in hand. She let out a huff that said, ‘four? From this day? Not going to be easy,’ and then raised her eyes skyward as she thought about the question. I think the first one was the hardest for her, since she had to look past the overwhelming negativity of the day to try and find the small gems of positivity underneath. After some thought, she told me about a small interaction with one of her students, usually a pain but who that day had been mildly pleasant due to Holly overwhelming her with determined niceness over the school year. The next one came quicker after that, although my brain fails me in remembering what it was, and then not long after came a third thing, and then a fourth.

The practice didn’t alleviate the horribleness of her day, the shitty things that had happened still existed as did their ramifications, but it did help change her mindset enough that their power over her diminished, and she seemed happier afterwards. I then ran through four things I had liked about my day, and our night went on from there.

That night as I lay in bed I decided I liked the practice, not only had it helped Holly, but saying my own four things had lifted my spirits as well, and gave me a general sense of, ‘yeah, the world’s an alright place and I’m a pretty lucky guy.’ And, so, I continued it.

There are days, of course, where I don’t feel like the world’s an alright place. It can seem full of craziness, and selfishness, and ignorance, and bigotry – ‘the world’ being a stand in here for the human race. But, again, ratting off four things I liked, finding things I am grateful for, however small and inconsequential in the big scheme of things, helps. It helps me remember that while there is horribleness out there, there is also good, even if I have to force myself to look for it.

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Not long after, I saw this video. It confirms a lot of what I thought and shows that there are actually physiological benefits to be grateful:

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Also, on the topic of gratitude, this comic is one of the four things I’m grateful for today:

aYgxRPN_460s

Talk soon,

Damian

 

Riding to Mars (Part 2)

1930864_1
IMAGE CREDIT: BAMBALICK DESIGN

Part 1 of this story can be found here.

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Justice woke, disorientated and in pain.

She hadn’t meant to sleep, but, buried in a hole, there was little else to do. She took a second to take note of the situation. It was quiet, and dark; both the day and the dust storm having moved on while she slept. With a grunt she pushed the bike and coat off her self. Cold rushed in. She inhaled with the sudden chill and rushed to wrap the coat around herself.

The cold now having woken her properly, she thought about what to do next. There was only really one option, try to get back to the city. She let out a heavy sigh, and looked down at her broken leg. She was just going to have to do her best.

Justice knew she should wrap the leg, but with no bandages on hand, and the cold settling in for the night, she was hesitant to rid herself of any additional clothing. Finally, she decided that she would likely warm up on the walk back, and that she could perhaps bare to lose her singlet top, which would still leave her with a shirt and coat.

She stripped down, then hurriedly re-clothed, minus the singlet. She used her teeth to tear through the hem and then tore it as best she could down the middle, doubling its length. With gritted teeth she wrapped the fabric around her leg; starting at the bottom and moving upwards. A guttural moan pushed up her throat as the fabric wound around the point of skin barely holding back her broken bone. Her teeth clamped so tight they felt like they might shatter from the force, and tears welled in the corners of her eyes. She pushed on, continuing the wrapping and tying it off.

She allowed herself a few deep calming breaths and then moved onto the next challenge. A crutch.

There were no trees out this far from the city, so branches were out of the question. It would have to be the bike. She looked across at the mangled wreck and tried to pick out the most likely parts that would suit her purposes. Both the top tube and bottom tube of the frame were bent, but perhaps not too bent. The ends were twisted and pressed, but that might actually help with the situation as she would have to try and separate them from the rest of the frame anyway.

She got to work. The frame was made of a metal alloy that made it extremely light, and only semi durable. This was why it had crumpled so easily from a basic fall, it would take most of the brunt of any accident, but wouldn’t get up again to face another one. It also meant she could bent and twist the frame using just her hands. She started on the wheels, pushing them out of the way so she could get to frame behind. Then it was just a matter of bending the metal one way, then back the other, over and over again until it finally weakened enough to snap. With both her hands heavily grazed, the already hard job was made even more difficult. But what other choice did she have? Nothing was ever easy, she thought.

By the time she had both metal tubes free she was covered in sweat, and her hands were bleeding. The cold was doing little to cool her down and she considered ditching her coat. Then it dawned on her that even with her recent labor she really shouldn’t be so hot. The temperature was likely single digits out here, meaning any heat she worked up should be whipped away in an instant.

A fever then, it had to be. Which meant infection. She doubted, and hoped, it wasn’t her leg. Likely it was her hands and face. Best keep her coat on then, she thought. She was probably colder than she thought she was, meaning if she stripped down she could freeze while still feeling like a human furnace.

She pushed the end of the top tube into the bottom, bending until they were as straight as she could make them. After all her manipulations the stick of metal was twisted and dented, making it look like as if were a toothpick that had been used by a giant mecha.

It only needed one more addition.

She freed the bike seat from its bearing and reattached it to the top of her stick. It was wobbly, but with her weight on it she assumed it wouldn’t be so noticeable. Only one way to know for sure, she thought.

Using the newly made crutch for balance she managed to draw herself up onto her good leg. It hurt, a lot. Once up, she placed the cruth into her armpit. It wasn’t perfect. The wobbiliness of the seat was more annoying than she had hoped for, and it was short, making her tilt to one side, but it would do. It would have to.

She left the rest of the bike where it was — seeing no need to carry additional scrap metal with her — and began, slowly, to walk.

She kept her eyes firmly fixed on the distant lights of the city as she made her way through the dark, refusing to bow her head or look at her injuries. Sweat continued to drip from her, but the cold of the night did work to cool the liquid, which added some relief.

Every step was accompanied by a jolt of pain. She did her best to keep as much weight as possible off of her left leg, but it wasn’t easy, and occasionally she would give it just an inch too much and scream as the pain spiked into white hot territory.

She tried not to think about the broken bone jostling within her skin, the shattered ends rubbing against each other with every move she made. She didn’t have much luck. The image kept flashing in her mind with every step she took.

Still, she stepped on wards, forcing herself to focus on the fact that with every step she was a little bit closer to her goal, rather than all the steps she still had to take.

After what she guessed was about a kilometer, she stopped. She didn’t sit, worried that it she did she might not be able to get back up again, just got her breath back, and tried to ease her legs as best she could. Her right one was already tired, overcompensating as it was for her left. Knowing it wasn’t likely to feel better any time soon, she carried on.

One hour passed, and then another.

The pain had reduced to a dull roar, as though covered with a thick blanket that muffled the bulk of it. Justice knew that wasn’t a good sign. She had started feeling woozy too. Now edging up to giddy, as the fever raged through her.

She thought she kept hearing noises out in the dark, but the saner part of her mind knew that should be impossible. While there were animals that lived on Mars, they were mostly livestock, kept to the immediate outskirts of the city, not out here in the flatlands. Still, the noises came at her, some familiar.

They’re video game noises, she thought with a moment of clarity. The pings and pops signifying achievements within a game, specifically the one she’d played as a kid. She hadn’t played it for years.

Then she heard a rising bbbbrrraaa-ding!

It was the noise that sounded whenever a new section of land was discovered. She began to giggle. She supposed she was uncovering new land, although it wasn’t lighting up like it did in the game, darkness still pervaded her senses. Every ten steps or so her mind would once more form the noise, bbbbrrraaa-ding! Oddly, it helped, she found herself pushing forward, wanting to hear the noise and hit the next imagined check-mark.

Then she fell.

Her leg just went out from underneath her. No warning. No tremor. Just her face hitting the hard dirt as her leg ignited into agony. She lay there for a second trying to figure out what had happened. Had her body just given up? All it’s resources gone. She started giggling again, and found couldn’t stop. Saliva dribbled from her mouth to mix with the dust, which puffed with ever gasping exhale she let out. Still, she couldn’t stop laughing. Or was it crying? Both, she decided.

‘What’s so funny, squirt?’ A voice asked.

She turned her head to see a small cartoon bird flying above her. Willow was its name. She knew this because it too came from the video game. It was the main characters sidekick, and only ever referred to them as squirt.

Justice let out a whine. That’s really not good, she thought.

‘I said, what’s so funny, squirt?’ Willow said again.

‘Just that I’m going crazy, and probably dying.’

‘Hm,’ Willow said in a confused voice, ‘that doesn’t sound funny at all.’

‘It’s not,’ Justice told her.

‘You should probably get up then, shouldn’t you?’

Justice thought about this. Wondered if she could, physically, stand. She wasn’t sure. She felt disconnected from her body. Felt as if she were somehow floating just outside of it.

The rational part of her mind screamed at her that this was bad, that if she was hallucinating, and hearing things, and no longer able to feel her body then she was likely on the brink of death, and all she needed to tip over it was to stop.

‘C’mon, squirt, time to go.’ Willow said with a flap of her wings. ‘Lot more land to discover yet, can’t be giving up now.’

Her voice, now sounding very much like Justice’s own, was sincere and urgent.

And so, Justice stood. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t quick, but she managed to get herself back upright once more, and place the crutch under her arm. She took a shaky step forward, then another, and then eight more. Bbbbrrraaa-ding!

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They found her just as the sun was beginning to rise, she had made it all the way to the edge of the city. She was rushed to the closest hospital where she was treated for dehydration, fever, and of course, a broken leg.

Justice was not on the first leap out to Europa, but she was on the second. The higher ups from the institute, Serena Shaw amongst them, were impressed at the way she’d coped and survived after the accident, and at her test scores once she’d retaken the exam. It hadn’t seemed as stressful the second time.

As she’d walked onto the enormous space craft, her homemade crutch in hand, she thought about all the land she would discover. All the lights she would turn on.

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Thanks for reading,

Damian

Riding to Mars (Part 1)

1930864_1Image Credit: Bambalick Design

Sweat streamed down her face as she rode. It glowed red, burning with both exertion and shame.

The heat of the sun shimmered against the red earth, as though she were riding headlong towards a portal to another world. Justice eyed that shimmer, wanting the fictional escape. Her legs pumped against the pedals, each footfall drawing another bead of sweat, each cycle pushing her forward, but the new world never came.

The temperature would drop soon, she knew. The weather lately had been alternating between extreme heat and chilling cold, as though the the city itself were running a fever. Between each change came the wind, rushing in to sweep the previous elements away.

The weather had been temperamental since the day Mars was terraformed, but it had increased recently. She didn’t know what that meant, if it meant anything, but she didn’t care. She wanted off this red rock anyway.

As she’d predicted the wind came gusting across the barren landscape, blowing first with her, then against. She growled against the added strain.

When her parents had first told her they would be moving to Mars she had been happy, then sad, then happy again. Bittersweet was the word, but at ten years old she was unfamiliar with the term.

The bitter came from the idea of leaving everything she knew behind. Her small town in southern Australia had encompassed almost her entire world–the odd trip to Melbourne the only exception. She saw it like an online role playing game, where most of the terrain stays in black, lighting up and revealing itself only when your avatar braved forward into the dark. Her world was mostly black, but soon she would be on a rocket to another planet, and she knew you would be hard pressed to find a way that lit up more terrain than that. That was where the sweet half of the equation came from, the chance to explore, and the fact that Mars was the best place to achieve her desired career. She was going to be an astronaut, she just knew it.

Her first year on Mars hadn’t lived up to expectations. The infrastructure in place when she had arrived with her family had been the barest necessary to allow human habitation, meaning all her usual comforts were non existent. Mars might have been terraformed and now habitable for humans, but it would take decades yet before anything resembling an ecosystem would start to appear. Each seed of that ecosystem, not to mention all the tools and materials that would allow it to flourish, would have to be shipped over on expensive cargo shuttles from Earth. Even basic comforts, such as indoor toilets and showers, had yet to make their way to Mars.

In the time since, Mars had flourished, and so had she.

Space travel advanced, becoming cheaper, and more and more shuttles began arriving every day. Her small outpost grew to became a city. Not like the ones she’d known back on Earth perhaps, but something new, and, eventually, familiar. The desert still remained, but the Earth-brought vegetation was beginning to establish itself, advancing outwards from the city like the world’s slowest moving army.

She had studied and trained. Every day. She had ran made up drills out on the red flats, pushing herself to become stronger, and asked her parents to supply her with books on every topic, to be brought over by the incoming fleets. She had discovered that knowledge was also like the terrain in a role playing game, and so she had sought to dispel the dark there as well.

Then, at fifteen, she had joined the institute. They had pushed her even harder than she’d pushed herself. She made the decision to move into the barracks a year early, at seventeen, a decision her parents questioned, but she knew she had to give her all if she had even a chance of making it. The next leap, out to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, was scheduled for just over eight years away, and she had a lot of ladder to climb if she wanted to ensure she would be on that mission.

She wouldn’t.

What she would do is suffer a panic attack during the final examination, brought on by lack of sleep and a general over exhaustion. This would lead to her hyperventilating and passing out only to then vomit on her personal hero and admiral of the fleet, Serena Shaw, when she tried to rouse her. They had taken her to a medical room to lie down, but as soon as she was alone she’d left, jumped on a bike, and rode for the distant horizon; a location that, much like her future career as an astronaut, seemed to move further away the harder she pushed herself toward it.

She leaned over the front of the bike, forcing her aching legs to pedal faster, then faster still. She screamed into the whipping wind, at the planet, at the situation, at herself, a guttural scream that tore at her throat and left her breathless.

Then the bike’s front tyre found a rock and the next thing she knew she was flying through the air. She hit red dirt, compacted and hard. Lights flashed in her head and she passed out for the second time that day.

She woke hours later; bleeding, bruised, and broken.

Justice lifted her head, and squinted against the still whipping wind. A groan dribbled out of her as she pulled herself into a sitting position to assess the damage. She felt sore all over. Whatever muscles weren’t bruised felt stiff from their prolonged awkward position on the hard ground. Her hands and elbows were heavily grazed, and, judging from the hot pain on her cheek, she assumed the same was true for the left side of her face.

Worse though, were her legs. The right one was okay; okay meaning cut and bleeding but otherwise functional. The left was broken. It’d been trapped between the ground and the bike as she hit, and had snapped like a candy cane from the combined pressures.

The bike was a mess of twisted metal. The front end in particular, as it has hit the ground hard and head on, probably saving her own helmet-less head from cracking. She freed herself from the tangle of bike, whimpering as she was forced to lift her broken leg, then drew her pant leg up with a hiss of pain.

The break wasn’t a compound fracture, but she could see the bone jutting against her skin from the inside. She bit down an urge to gag and took a deep breath; using her training to calm herself. She needed hospilisation, except the closest one was now kilometers away. She hadn’t ridden with any direction or destination in mind, merely wanting to create distance between her and her failure. Back the way she had came, she could just make out the outline of the city, hidden by the blowing dust.

They would come looking for her, given enough time, but how long would that take? Hours? Days? She would need to make her own way back, somehow. First, though, she needed shelter. The wind was becoming worse, and she knew a dust storm couldn’t be that far away. Except there was no shelter. There was no vegetation this far out from the city, and no outcrops to hide behind in the immediate vicinity.

With a sigh, she reached over to the bike and unscrewed the mud guard. It wasn’t much in the way of spades, but it would have to do. She began to dig.

The hole was far from perfect, she could only just fit into it by pulling her legs up into a fetal position, an act that caused tears to rush to her eyes as she jostled her broken limb. She then pulled her cloak over herself, and dragged the damaged bike on top to weigh it down.

As she lay there, knees pressed up against herself, the weight of the bike pushing down uncomfortably on top of her, wind and dust howling overhead, she considered just how shitty a day she’d had.

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Part 2 of this story can be found here

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Thanks for reading,

Damian